The visions of Nelly Recchia are as shocking, mournful
and complex as the work she ultimately creates. Technically, this French-Italian
artist is a body painter, but the title doesn't truly capture her role,
skill or dark imagination. Recchia transforms her models into haunting
visions of pained puppets through transcendent makeup, lighting, poses
and photographs. She spoke with us about the theory of beauty, the media's
role in it and the metamorphosis of her human canvases.
Click any image to view the pop-up
gallery slide show.
Sez G: You first received an education
in artistic makeup before you started painting bodies. What IS artistic
makeup and how does it differ from makeovers and beauty school?
Nelly Recchia: I would say that makeup has different purposes. In
my case, I want to push the boundaries of what is qualified as "beauty"
in our societies. My tools are still makeup and brushes, but in its whole,
the goal is not to fit some standard. It is more to express feelings and
emotions with those tools using a human body as a canvas... It can
be like a makeover, since you can completely transform someone when pushing
makeup to that extreme.
As far as the word "artistic," well…maybe. I think nowadays, the word "art"
is unfortunately used very loosely. Too many people are walking around with
the label "artist" (or even better, "genius") because they stitched two
pieces of fabric together or made a blue dot on a white canvas!
Sez G: What's the beginning of the creative process
like for you? Do you conceptualize the piece and then find a model to fit
your intention? Or do you come up with an idea after seeing the model's
shape? Or do you begin work on the body and let it develop organically?
Nelly Recchia: Usually, I know exactly what I want to represent, and I've created
it in my sketches. Then I think of the body type and personality that would
"wear" the paint very well. I love to work with ballet dancers; they have
a grace and intensity in their poses that I want in my work. They also have
a very high endurance, which is very important since the sessions are very
Sez G: Yes, I've read that some of your sessions last 13 hours! It must
be such an intimate experience, climaxing with an intense and sensual living
work of art. Can you set the scene for me? What kind of communication do
you have with the model during the painting? Do you chat, is there music,
and what kind of lighting do you use?
Nelly Recchia: It depends on the model, but we usually talk a lot and go into
very deep, philosophical topics! Sometimes, we will be very quiet and have
music on, or I might even put some movies on so they can be entertained
while I am painting them. If I have the choice, I'd rather work under natural
Sez G: When does the photographer enter
the scene and how much collaboration is there between the two of you and
the model on the lighting, pose, etc? Do you (or someone else) photograph
any of the work as it progresses?
Nelly Recchia: I usually have a very precise idea of what I want on a photographic
level. Before I start painting, we all have a brief meeting about the lights
and the poses. I am working more and more with photographer Judson McKelvey.
His work is very good, he understands my visions, and he is a very kind
and genuine man. He sometimes shoots images while I am working.
Sez G: Are you present for the washing off of
your work? How does it feel to see it removed? Do you view the model differently
Nelly Recchia: I am not present for the washing off! Haha! I don't mind at all
knowing that after hours of work, it will all disappear in a few minutes
with a shower. I actually like this idea. However, if the camera were not
there to capture the work, I think it would be a different story. I am usually
relieved when I have the pictures in front of me.
Sez G: Where are you from in France and when did you move to LA?
I was born in a small town called Clermont-Ferrand, right in the middle
of France. I grew up in my family's junkyard, which was the perfect playground!
I moved to LA about 4 years ago.
Sez G: Which leads me to Hollywood… it perpetuates many unachievable
standards in beauty and body type, yet you create such a striking, different
version of beauty and personality. Are you finding LA conducive to or restrictive
of creative inspiration?
Nelly Recchia: You see, being French with Italian roots, I was raised with a
respect for the elderly, and aging is considered a natural, graceful stage
of life. Being in LA has made me realize that there is a real fascism to
youth and beauty.
The media is feeding a theory that the only thing that matters is how one
looks. Talent? Intelligence? Respect? No. And everyone ends up looking like
empty clones with no substance at all.
But it's not just in LA; being "all about the appearance"
is a worldwide disease. Sadly, I can feel pressured by this too. At the
same time, it feeds my desire to create imagery counterbalancing this absurdity.
Thanks to interviews like yours, I can also share my point of view on the
subject. It is very important to me.
Sez G: Your perspective definitely comes through in your art! You have
done work with big-time stars (Madonna, Marilyn Manson, Robert Downey Jr.)
as well as lesser known fetish models, ballerinas, etc. Does your artistic
process differ for the famous, the infamous and the unknown? How about for
men and women?
Nelly Recchia: Under my brush is a human face or body, regardless of the fame.
I put the same amount of passion and respect into my work. Whether I use
men or women just depends on the concept I have in mind. The problem sometimes
with male models is that they have hairy torsos and legs! (laughs) They
are usually happy to shave for the occasion.
Sez G: You've kept a lot of your work off the internet with the intention
of revealing it to us in your book. Tease! How is it going and when can
we expect it?
Nelly Recchia: I am still talking with different publishing companies. I want
it to be the right choice for everybody. My website will offer information
about the book as it develops. It will be a good thing to finally share
all these hours of labor and tormented visions of mine!!!
We can't wait to see it! If you'd like to learn more about Nelly Recchia,
Nelly Recchia - by Sez G.